The Long Road to Ruin Ch. 21byLady_Blackhawk©
Disclaimer: This fanfic is based off the Neverwinter Nights community module by the name of "A Dance with Rogues" created by Valine. I fell in love with this story and felt compelled to write something that compliments it. This story contains for explicit content and graphic violence. All characters except Shiloh, Bastian, Rhys, Nicca, Ni'as, Narev and Essex are property of Valine.
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A Dance of Deception
As dawn broke, the female archer came to and struggled against her bonds. "Please," she croaked, "Water."
Anden knelt near her with the waterskin and helped her to drink. "How do you feel?" he asked, noting the reddened skin where the ropes had rubbed against her.
"Like a pack of goblins are running through my head!" She sneered. "Where is the bitch that is responsible for this? I'd like to rip out her entrails and feed them to her!"
"Perhaps you should reconsider that course of action. The one that knocked you out could have easily killed you as she did your comrades. She spared your life, which is more than I would have done. It is more than any of you scoundrels would have done."
"Then she is a fool!" She squirmed. "I must relieve myself."
Anden blushed slightly and helped her to her feet. He carried her to the edge of the woods and set her down on her feet. Loosening her bonds, he pulled down her pants and turned his back to her. "Do not even think about trying to escape," he warned her. "I have fairly sharp ears."
"By the hells, listening while I take a piss," she growled as she tended to her business. "I'm finished now."
Anden turned back around and jerked her pants back into place. She hissed, grumbling about his fine treatment of her. Then he carried her back to camp, where he served her a cup of tea and a bowl of rabbit stew he had prepared while they both slept. "Eat up."
"So what will you do with me? Turn me into the Dhorn for being a criminal or would you rather extract your own manner of torture from me? Would the good ranger lower himself to my level and make use of my body in the name of justice?"
Anden flushed red with contempt for her. "You, lady, are an insolent…"
She spat at him, cutting off his retort. Anden glared at her. "Insolent wench… you should be taught some manners."
"And you think you are man enough to do it."
Anden grabbed a hold of her and dragged her into his lap. She thrashed about as he pulled her pants down, exposing her bare bottom to the chilly air. She squealed in protest, flailing her legs to and fro. He held her down with one hand and delivered a hard stinging slap to her posterior with the other. She yelped and cursed him vehemently, spitting out a string of expletives that he'd never quite heard before. His first slap was followed by a second and a third. She cried and cursed him further. He took no mercy upon her and continued the spanking with three harder, brutal slaps. She gave in, ceasing her struggling, and cried brokenly. "Please…stop…stop. I'll…be…good. Just stop…"
Anden heeded her pleas and ran his hand over her reddened cheeks, softly soothing her. "Do you have a name, wench?"
"That's a pretty name. You could have had a better life than this one, dear lady." Anden stated as he pulled her pants back up and set her back down, right upon her sore bottom.
Adele hissed in pain, biting her lip. "I had a better life than this once. I lost my husband and young children a few years back to bandits. I joined them in order to survive. You probably would not understand."
"No, I would not know what that is like, but I believe it has to do with your choices."
"Sometimes those choices are made for you. I've done what I had to do to survive. You know nothing about that," she hissed.
He regarded her coolly as he finished eating his bowl of stew. "You should eat while it's still warm."
Anden turned his attention from her and focused on Shiloh. He held another cup of tea to her lips and pried them apart, making her swallow the warm healing liquid as he massaged her throat. She coughed a little and murmured something incoherent. Then he checked her wounds. The long gash on her arm had completely knitted as well as the few nicks here and there. The gaping wound in her shoulder showed some signs of redness. He cleaned it again and rubbed more salve into it before replacing the soiled bandages with new ones. If it did not show signs of improvement soon, he knew he would be forced to cauterize it to avoid infection.
Digging into her pack, he pulled out another curative potion vial and poured it down her throat. That should help. He only wished there had been an antidote vial. He knew that was what she really needed. He hadn't had any amongst his supplies and neither had the bandits.
He then set a small pot of broth on the fire and allowed it to heat up. To help her keep her strength, he'd feed that to her. He knew it would take all of his skill to help her pull through, but he swore on his life he would save her.
Shiloh slept for four more days before waking up. She rubbed her eyes and yawned loudly, slowly stretching her limbs. A sharp pain coursed through her shoulder and she let out a small yelp. Her cry alerted Anden, who rushed to her side. Shiloh struggled to sit up, but realized her hands seemed to be cover with mittens. Mittens? There was no snow here and it seemed like the rain had stopped momentarily.
"M'lady, you are injured. Let me help you, lest you tear the wound in your shoulder," Anden replied.
Shiloh looked down at the bandages that bound her shoulder. "Wound?" she questioned.
"Do you not remember? You were shot with an arrow. With Adele's help, I was able to discover the poison on the arrow and was able to treat you."
Shiloh eyed him and the girl warily, trying to remember how she knew them. Her head still felt somewhat fuzzy, "How do I know you and her?"
"I am Anden, the woodsman you rescued from the bandits. And Adele was one of the bandits. She is the one you spared. The others are dead." Anden replied.
Shiloh's brow furrowed as it all came back to her. She remembered now what had happened to her. "I am thankful that you took care of me, Anden."
"You saved my life, sweet lady. How could I do any less by you?"
"How long have I been?"
"Five days. It has taken all my knowledge and skill to keep you alive and well. I made sure you drank plenty of liquids. Tea, water and broth."
Shiloh smiled. "I thank you, good sir. Why does my shoulder hurt so badly?"
"From the arrow you were shot with."
"Did you not feed me some of the healing potions in my pack?"
Anden flashed a look of indignation at her. "Of course, m'lady."
Shiloh's brow furrowed. "There is a vial in the one of the pouches inside my pack. Bring it to me."
Anden picked up her pack and carried it to her. He set it before her. "Which one, m'lady?" He pulled out several of the small leather bags.
Shiloh frowned at him. "Why am I wearing these…mittens?"
Anden chuckled. "To keep you from scratching at the healing wound. It would not stop oozing blood so I was forced to cauterize the wound."
"Eep!" Shiloh squeaked like a little mouse and held her hands out to Anden to remove the bindings. He smiled at her and quickly dispatched them.
Anden blushed ever so slightly, a wash of pale pink creeping up his neck and into his cheeks. "May I ask what your name is, sweet lady?"
She smiled in return, her eyes twinkling at him. "It is Shiloh."
"Shiloh. That is a lovely name indeed," Anden smiled at her brightly. "Are you hungry?"
As he mentioned food, her stomach took that opportunity to rumble loudly. "Yes, I find that I am quite so, but let me find that vial first. I should drink it first before I eat."
Shiloh rummaged through her leather pouches and pulled out the long cylindrical vial. She popped the lip off the top and brought it to her mouth. With a grimace, she drank it down. She shuddered visibly and pulled the bandage away from her shoulder. The ache relinquished as the scarred mass of blackened skin smoothed out completely, leaving behind a perfectly unmarred swath of pale flesh. Anden watched in awe. "I have never quite seen the likes of that, M'lady."
"It's a major heal draught. I procured it from the temple in Betancuria."
"Then you must be one of the more privileged to afford that. Are you from Betancuria, m'lady?" He asked, his eyes smiling at her.
"Yes, I am and you?"
"Yes. I was on my way back to the city when I stumbled over this lot of scoundrels," Anden grabbed a few of the bowls and began serving up the stew he had made. He handed Shiloh hers and then Adele before starting on his own meal.
"How did they catch you?" Shiloh smirked, remembering that defeating most of them had been quite simple.
"They feigned a broken wheel on their wagon and asked for help. Before I knew it, one hit me in the head and the next thing I knew when I awoke I was tied to that tree." Anden replied, wryly. "You must think I'm quite naïve for falling for that."
"No, I don't think anything of the sort." Shiloh replied. "It would seem to me that you prefer to see the good in all whereas I have had more experience with such…. scoundrels."
Anden nodded. "I have learned my lesson, though."
"Lesson…" Shiloh remarked, remembering that she'd been out here on her seventh lesson. She was supposed to decide whether to go north to freedom or south to Betancuria. She also remembered why she had spared the life of the female called Adele. She had planned to take her back to Master Nathan in hopes of forcing her to divulge the location of other bandits in the area. Or perhaps her skills would be of use to him. She shook her head and leveled her gaze back upon Anden, who was eyeing her with a rather curious expression. She took a bite of her stew. It was quite hearty with chunks of meat and various wild vegetables. She tasted carrots, potatoes, and onions. There were also herbs as well. "The stew is very good, Anden. So tell me, what were you doing out here in the woods?"
"I'm a ranger, m'lady. I'm supposed to be in the wild, you know." He smiled at her. "When a wanderer is lost or an animal is wounded, I help. It's also a ranger's duty to keep goblins and bugbears and the like away from the city and roads, making them safe for traveling."
"You must not make a lot of money that way, do you?" Shiloh smirked.
He chuckled softly. "My profession is not about money, but rather helping others. The rewards are far greater that way," Anden replied.
She nodded and took another bite of the delicious stew.
"What about you, sweet Shiloh? Are you a traveler?"
"I'm on my way back to Betancuria. I live there," she replied, giving him a little wink.
His face reddened, "And may I be so bold as to ask what you do for a living?"
"Of course you may, dear Anden," Shiloh grinned widely, noticing his blush. "I'm a thief."
"What?!?!" He looked at her with a shocked expression on his face. "You…you shouldn't do that! Really! Stealing from other people is wrong."
Shiloh giggled. "Well…stealing from myself is kind of boring."
He blinked at her. "You…are making fun of me, aren't you?"
She smiled and laughed a little bit. "I was just kidding…"
Anden looked upon her for several long moments, scratching his chin and shaking his head. "It is such a shame…"
"Well I suppose I could also become a whore as well." Shiloh deadpanned.
He stared at her aghast, "Oh dear gods, that would not do. You are so much better than that, sweet lady."
She chuckled. "I wouldn't do that, Anden. I was teasing you to see your response."
"HA!" Adele screeched. "You two-bit craven wanton ill-bred miscreant! Hypocrite! You murder my companions and have the nerve to call yourself a criminal! How dare you!"
"So our little bandit speaks." Shiloh arched her eyebrow at her. "Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why I spared you when I easily could have slit your pretty throat as I did the others? Have you asked yourself why you were the lucky one?"
Adele's eyes narrowed and she glared at her. "So you could torment me and turn me over to the Dhorn?"
"I hate the Dhorn. I lost everything when the Dhorn took over my home…" Shiloh's voice cracked as she fought to compose herself. "No, honey, you have talent. I noticed that right away. I know people who would appreciate your skills."
Adele eyed her ponderingly. She wasn't sure what to think. "I shall consider your words," she nodded and quietly finished eating her stew. Then she set her bowl aside and walked away from the camp, strolling along the river. Anden watched her go.
"She needs time to come to terms with her situation," he stated.
Shiloh nodded, "As do I." She finished her food and handed him her bowl then sought the warmth of her bedroll once more.
Two more days passed before Shiloh decided she was ready to return to Betancuria. She wanted to complete her lessons. And she needed to be with Vico. But as she set her sight on Anden in that moment, she decided she would have her cake and eat it, too.
Anden noticed the lustful look on Shiloh's face and blushed. He wondered what she was thinking, yet he busied himself gathering his stolen belongings that he planned on taking back to Betancuria. He glanced at Adele and pondered upon what would become of her. He had taken notice of her melancholy mood over the last few days and wondered what had caused it. She remained on tenterhooks when in camp the same time as Shiloh. The sheer loathing between them was thick enough to be cut with a knife. He didn't quite understand why, but each seemed fairly envious of the time he spent around with the other.
He nodded as Shiloh excused herself and took a walk along the river. He looked to his left and noticed that Adele was sleeping soundly, taking an early afternoon nap the way she always did. He donned a cloak for warmth and set out to follow Shiloh. Despite the warning niggling in his brain, he had to be sure she was safe. She saved him from death or worse. He owed it to her to keep her out of harm's way.
Anden found her kneeling in a clearing. Wildflowers flanked her and he could tell by her whispered words that she was praying. He watched her intently, drinking in her beauty. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and had an air about her that was almost regal. It was like a dream that he had encountered such as wonderful creature.
He approached her slowly, kneeling beside her. "M'lady?"
She jumped a little and looked upon him with tearful eyes.
"M'lady, what ails you?"
"I am lonely," she whimpered, hugging herself tightly.
"Are you cold?" he asked, leaning in closer to her.
"Yes, inside…" she whispered as she closed the gap between them. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders and hugged him, seeking solace in his warmth.
"M'lady…we should not…"
"Shhhhhhhhh," Shiloh hushed him as she placed her finger over his lips. "Tell me something, Anden. Do you think I'm pretty?"
"You are above and beyond the most beautiful woman I have ever beheld."
"Do you think there could be anything more between us?" She looked up at him with teary, innocent eyes.
"I had meant to ask you something. Do you have a…husband in the city? A lover? A betrothed?" He blushed red, studying the ground.
Shiloh lifted his chin with her hand, meeting his eyes. She moved closer still, pressing herself flush against him, and planted a small kiss upon his cheek. "No, there is no one in my life."
He touched his cheek where she'd kissed him, his face brightening. She smiled at him again and he returned it, a slight blush coloring his cheeks. "M'lady, I am honored you have these feelings for me and I would very much like to get to know you better."
The smile on her face reached all the way up into her eyes. She planted another kiss on his cheek as he took hold of her hand and brought it to his mouth, placing a soft kiss upon it.
"I would like that, my very good Anden," Shiloh smiled. "So I ask you again, do you think there could be anything more between us than just good friends?"
"What are you asking, m'lady?" His brow furrowed.
"You asked me if I had a husband or a lover. It sounded to me if you were asking because you would like to be that for me. So I ask if that is what you want."
"I would gladly lie with you upon a bed of roses only if you were my beloved wife." Anden replied, looking deeply into her eyes.
"Are you proposing?" Shiloh smiled, leaning into him. She nuzzled her lips against his neck and gently nipped at his ear.
Anden stifled a groan, and gently pushed her away. He cleared his throat. "I have feelings for you, sweet lady, but now is neither the time nor is it the place to speak of such matters. Give me time to get to know you further and then we shall speak of proposals."
Shiloh sighed and lowered her eyes. She knew she mustn't rush him. She felt him place his hand beneath her chin and lift it gently. "Do not be in such a rush to give your body away. Love will come when the time is right. I beg this of you, m'lady."
She leveled upon him a sweet smile. "I thank you for your honesty, my very good Anden."
He inclined his head to her. "Let us return to camp and see how Adele fares. I believe she is at a loss of family and does not know what to do with herself."
Shiloh pondered his words for a moment. "Yes, she does seem to be quite downhearted. Perhaps I may have a solution for her. The farmer that lives to the north of here practically begged me to stay there and help him with his children. Perhaps Adele would be more receptive to the idea."
Anden mulled it over. "Perhaps you may be right. She lived on a farm to the south of here with her husband and children and lost her family to an attack by bandits. She told me how much she missed them. We spoke at length while you were recuperating for those few days. Shall we present the idea to her?"
Shiloh smiled and giggled then took off running. "Race you to camp. Loser has to give the winner a massage."
She sprinted away, laughing at the top of her lungs as Anden cried foul at her apparent head start. She giggled the whole way and jumped for joy as she reached the campfire beneath the awning of the wagon. "I won! I won!"
Anden caught her and shook his finger at her with feigned displeasure. "Cheater!" he teased and sat down near her.
Adele handed him a few eggs and a couple of wild tomatoes. "I found these while on my walk. I wish we had some sausages to go with it."
"Sausages, you say," Shiloh repeated as she dug into one of her packs and found the one that contained food wrapped up in oilskins. "I believe I have some that need to be cooked."
Removing them from the protective wrap, she placed them in the skillet. Anden smiled at her. "My stomach can hardly wait." He helped her with the preparation of the food, cracking the eggs into the skillet next to the small sausages. Then he pulled out a knife to slice the small tomatoes.
Several minutes passed in silence for the trio while the food cooked. Anden carefully eyed both his female companions. Shiloh seemed to be at ease while Adele was restless and on edge. The moodiness had taken hold again. He smiled at her as their eyes met, then handed her the plate he had just fixed. Perhaps it was time to broach the subject of her loneliness and the farmer to the north.
"Lady Adele, might we speak of something personal?" Anden began after clearing his throat. His cheeks flamed red from the blush that had settled into them.
"What is it? What do you wish to know?" Adele replied between bites of food.
"Lady Shiloh and I have discussed your…predicament and perhaps have arrived at a solution for you."
"My predicament?" A haughty sneer graced her face. "Am I to be thrown to the mercy of the Dhorn after all?"